Personality: Camilla Tramuel

Spotlight on chair of 50th anniversary commemoration of historic New Kent school case

4/13/2018, 8:46 a.m.
In the shadows of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a little known Virginia school desegregation case was ...

In the shadows of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a little known Virginia school desegregation case was instrumental in changing the lives and education of schoolchildren across the commonwealth as well as the country.

Camilla Tramuel, chair of the 50th Anniversary Commemoration of Charles C. Green v. County School Board of New Kent County, is bringing the case out of the shadows and into the public spotlight, while establishing its rightful place in the annals of American history.

“We want everyone to know about the work and the role Charles Green’s case played in one of the most significant desegregation decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court,” Ms. Tramuel says.

The commemoration will include a series of educational and inspirational events, beginning Saturday, April 28, and continuing each week through the end of May.

The events will celebrate the legacy of Dr. Calvin C. Green, a pastor, science teacher and Richmond high school ROTC commander, who as president of the New Kent Branch NAACP, filed suit to ensure the promise of equal education under the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education would be fulfilled. The father of three sons, Dr. Green filed the lawsuit in 1965 on behalf of his youngest son, Anthony Green, who was in elementary school in New Kent County, where schools refused to desegregate despite the Brown decision.

At the time, Ms. Tramuel explains, there were only two schools in the county, with both spanning from elementary to high school — George Watkins for black students and New Kent for white students.

“George W. Watkins School was originally the New Kent Training School, founded in 1930 with Dr. George W. Watkins as its first and only principal,” she says.

While there were about 740 African-American students and 550 white students in the county at the time, when the white school got new books, “their old, torn, dirty books” were given to the black school, Ms. Tramuel says. “They had the ‘N-word’ scribbled across them, missing pages, not even a complete book,” she explains. “Our teachers did the best they could to piece books together so that we could have complete books to study from.” Desks and chair also were hand-me-downs, “missing legs and arms.”

Other examples of the county’s unequal treatment for the black school, Ms. Tramuel points out, were the amount of money per pupil pumped into the white school compared with the black school, as well as unequal pay for black teachers and the principal.

“In 1940, $70.12 was spent per white student versus $23.24 per black student,” she says. “The white principal was paid $2,095 per year and the black principal was paid $810 per year. The white teachers were paid $710. “If they had spent $50 per white student and $50 per black student…maybe we wouldn’t have complained,” she says.

To skirt the suit, the New Kent School Board instituted a “freedom of choice” system in which students could choose where they wanted to go to school. In the fall of 1965, 26 African-American students entered the all-white New Kent School, but no white parents sent their children to the all-black Watkins School.